Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Getting There (the first time)

In late 2002, I was newly single and living alone in Vancouver. I was capital “S” single complete with hysterical phone calls to my ex (wee hours of the morning typical), a diet made up of double gin & tonics and .99 cans of tuna, the beginnings of a potentially dysfunctional relationship, and a male tabby cat sharing my apartment. I knew how to behave –years of avid Sex and the City watching from the safety of my committed relationship had paid off. I knew that Tanqueray was the gin to drink with my tonic (thank you, Mr. Big!), I knew there was nothing shameful about sleeping with a man just because you wanted to with no last names required (thanks ladies! Charlotte excluded of course.), I knew that a Brazilian was the only wax to get (thank you, Samantha!), I knew Manolos were the shoes to aspire to (thank you, Carrie!) and I knew there was nothing wrong with using your oven for additional closet space (thanks again, Carrie!)

But I was still struggling. It was around this time that the idea of Paris, well the whole of Western Europe actually, came to me as a way of escaping my sad, single life in Vancouver. Instead of being known as Woman-who-is-Hungover-on-a-Monday, I would be reinvented as the Woman-who-went-Travelling-and-Became-Fabulous-and-Fulfilled. And the idea of going alone, though terrifying, was also incredibly appealing. I couldn’t commit to the idea of living abroad – even in Paris – so I decided on a 10-week, 100 Canadian dollars per day, solo backpacking trip across Western Europe. I took a leave of absence from my job, locked up my apartment, shipped the tabby to my Mom’s, skimmed some Lonely Planet books and boarded a plane in February of 2003. Paris was to be a highlight on my loosely planned itinerary.

I started my trip in London and stayed with a roommate from university. It was a comforting start, filled with evenings that were similar to the ones I had been having in Vancouver with lots of alcohol and nostalgic, boozy conversations. Some mornings I would wake on the couch of his flat and see him dancing manically to some obscure band and I would have to remind myself that we were in London, not Nanaimo. My London days were filled with requisite museum going and monument gaping. During once such excursion I happened upon Waterloo Station and I was struck by the fact that there were trains there that could take me to Paris in less time that it took me to drive to Whistler from my apartment in Vancouver.

That night I went online to book the next leg of my trip on the wonderfully priced European airline EasyJet. The romance of European train travel was not lost on me but it was, for the most part, lost to the realities of my budget. As anxious and excited as I was to get to Paris, I also wanted to delay the anticipation and ecstasy as long as I could possibly endure so I booked a flight from London to Dublin, with five days to explore in Dublin, before another flight would take me from Dublin to Paris.

As this isn’t a Blog about Dublin, I won’t excessively detail my five days there. Obviously, it being February, Dublin was rainy and cold. And my trip started off badly when I crashed the car that I had impulsively rented at the airport en route to the seaside town of Malahide. I returned the car with minor dents and scratches and gave up on seeing any of Ireland’s picturesque countryside. More than anything, Dublin was an entry into some of the realities of backpacking alone; I coped with my first hostel and my first shared shower, met my first Americans traveling as Canadians, and battled with my first pangs of loneliness and boredom. To be fair to Dublin, I was all about getting to Paris and realizing the fantasies that had been closeted in my imagination for nearly fifteen years.

On my sixth morning in Dublin I woke up and made my way to the airport. Paris was only a short flight away…

Monday, June 8, 2009

Where are all the Canadians in Paris?

Where are the Canadians in Paris? And why aren’t they writing about it?

I (again!) spent too much time this weekend reading yet another book about an American who leaves their small Texan town, their safe job, their wide open spaces, etc. to pursue a more exciting life in the City of Lights. I have probably read about seven of these books this past year – typically penned by journalists, nannies or college drop-outs – and each time I have hoped in vain to feel a connection to the writer and each time I have been disappointed with their now predictable conclusion that indeed the United States is not only the best, but the only county to live. This past weekend’s reading provided me with a faint connection when the writer described how they developed a love of apricots while living in Paris. I as well became enamoured with apricots after several trips to Paris, particularly the jam, and I often search my hometown’s grocery and specialty food stores for new, French imported apricot products.

A bit of a delicious digression that still doesn’t answer my question about Canadians in Paris.

I first became aware of Paris as a pre-teen when I enrolled in a French Immersion language program that used, among other things, a book about the hapless adventures of “Claude” and “Jean” as they raced throughout the streets of Paris, often near the Eiffel Tower, to solve petty crimes while wearing black berets and striped shirts. In my 12 year-old mind’s eye, Paris was a small city of interlocking cobblestone streets that all led to the Eiffel Tower.
As I moved through my teens and into my early twenties Paris was never far from my thoughts or dreams. I kept up with my French lessons and learned, courtesy of my gentile “step grandmere” to eat salad after dinner, not before. As a family we hosted a French exchange student one summer from Bordeaux and I fell in love with her exotic smelling perfumes and impeccable style. I bought French Vogues; I read French history books, French art books and French memoirs – anything that hinted at Parisian life.

And then one morning I woke up, 25 years old, never having been to Paris, and recently single. I was utterly alone and suddenly Paris became the answer to all my problems. Moreover I was terrified that I would grow old – like into my thirties– and would never have made it to the city of my dreams. I know this reads as though I am going to recount a similar story to those Americans I scorned paragraphs earlier but it really isn’t.

You see I have never lived in Paris. I have never quit my job, quit my life or quit my wide open clean, Canadian spaces to chase a new existence down the cobblestoned streets of Paris. Rather at 32 years old, I have just returned from my third trip to Paris in six years – this time with my husband.

The fact that I have been to Paris three times in the last six years is amazing. My friends and my family remind me of this when I regularly moan about missing Paris and already wanting to return.

Paris is one of the great loves of my life; it is often the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and it is often the last thing I think about before I drift off to sleep at night. Last night as I fell asleep recalling moments of my most recent trip, I decided that maybe if I wrote about Paris, it wouldn’t seem so distant...